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Assessing Pain in Pet Patients

by Lori Hehn - July 20, 2015 at 2:00 PM
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Veterinary technicians are often the first person of contact for pets during emergencies or post-operative in the hospital. Therefore it is critical that a veterinary technician can recognize the signs and symptoms of pain. Pain management is an important part of patient care, and by implementing pain scoring in the monitoring of hospitalized patients, patients may receive the analgesia and attention they need. Animals may be very stoic and pain can sometimes be difficult to assess. The following suggestions are meant to help with pain scoring in our pet patients. Some physical characteristics below such as panting or trembling may not be pain related but may be due to nervousness or other medical disease so these symptoms are to be interpreted based on the whole status of the patient.

General physical characteristics of pain may include (but are not limited to):

  • Vocalizing (crying, whining, etc.)
  • Inability to lay down or rest comfortably or not
    moving when awake
  • Increased panting, agitation, trembling,
  • Stiff gait or lameness
  • Hunched or abnormal posture or “praying”
  • Chewing or licking at a painful area
  • Depression/decreased responsiveness to the owner
  • Lack of self grooming in cats
  • Carrying tail in a low position
  • Decreased appetite
  • Urinating or defecating inappropriately because
    they don’t want to get up or posture
  • Attempts to bite at the owner or at a caregiver
  • Hiding

It is important to treat predictable pain which means that if an animal has a surgical procedure or has a medical condition that is known to be painful (such as pancreatitis or glaucoma), that analgesia is given regardless of whether the animal may “seem” painful (i.e. just because a pet is quiet does not mean they are not in pain). As a veterinary technician, look for physical characteristics of pain. Take the patient’s heart and respiratory rates. Tachycardia, tachypnea, or increased blood pressure may be seen when an animal is in pain (although these may not always be consistent; an animal that
is exhibiting painful behaviors but has a normal heart and respiratory rate is likely painful). The bottom line is that if you see characteristics of pain, notify the veterinarian so that the patient may be further assessed and appropriate analgesia may be administered.

AAHA/AAFP Pain Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

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About Lori Hehn

Lori Hehn is a practicing veterinarian and a contributor and content manager with XPrep Learning Solutions. She has a drive for continual learning and enjoys interacting with veterinary and vet tech students. She also writes veterinary learning books for children.

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